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For Whom the Curfew Is Lifted and for Whom not: Governmental Privileges for the Chosen

May 19, 2021
Manana Vardiashvili
On March 21, after 9 p.m., when the curfew began on the whole territory of Georgia, some ethnic Azeris gathered in Marneuli in front of the Mayor’s Office and began dancing: in this way they expressed a protest against the refusal from the Administration of the Government of Georgia to their request to lift the curfew for just only one day.  
Ethnic Azeris who celebrate Novruz Bayram on March 21, had applied to the Prime Minister with a request to lift the curfew for just only one day for the holiday. The authorities did not take into account the request of the ethnic minority and did not allow an exception for them. However, the authorities allowed the exception granting the right to move during the curfew hours to those 30 000 citizens attending Georgia-Spain football match on March 28, 2021. 
“Novruz Bayram is the biggest national holiday for Azeris. We await for the holiday, that UNESCO has recognized as a monument of intangible cultural heritage, for the whole year.  We petitioned the Prime Minister and Interagency Coordination Council with a request to lift the curfew for just one day on the whole territory of Georgia to celebrate Novruz Bayram. We sent a written petition to the Administration of the Government. The Government forwarded the petition to the Agency for Religious Issues to review, however we have not received any respond from the Agency. We learned that the Government rejected our request from the briefing when they answered the question of the journalist,”- says Samira Bayramova civil activist and human rights defender,- “If it is possible to temporarily lift the restrictions for movement for an important sport event, like football match, or for some other religious holidays, why it was impossible to lift the curfew for one day for Novruz Bayram?  How a fact could be explained that some groups of citizens have certain rights, while the others have none. It is a discriminatory policy that the authorities demonstrate towards the ethnic minorities. We expressly broke the curfew and protested in such a way  the refusal of the authorities to grant our request.”  
The group of 40 traveled to Marneuli from Tbilisi to express their solidarity to ethnic Azeris. Giorgi Mumladze, the member and activist of the Movement for Georgia, was among them. 
“I myself come from Marneuli and know what a great importance Novruz Bayram is for the local community, it is a great national holiday for them. The circumstances must be taken into account here that the authorities sometimes make an exception and for certain groups of people they remove the regulations and restrictions set for the purpose of stopping the coronavirus. As an example, those who bought the tickets for Georgia-Spain football match were granted the right to move during the curfew, but for ethnic Azeris they did not make such kind of exception. This is a discrimination the authorities demonstrate towards the ethnic minorities. We protested such a discriminative policy from our authorities and celebrated Novruz Bayram together with ethnic Azeris. When returning to Tbilisi our 4 activists were fined with GEL 2000 for breaking  the curfew,”- says Mumladze.  
The members of the Movement for Georgia are now bringing forth the legal action against the fines issued by the police. 
Exception for the religious majority
The restriction of movement was also removed by the Georgian authorities on January 6-7, 2021, when the parish of the Orthodox Church was celebrating Christmas, and justified such a temporary removal of the restriction by the circumstance that the majority of the population of Georgia is “Orthodox”. 
However, the restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus have not been eased on December 25, 2020, when Christmas was celebrated by the representatives of other religious confessions. 
The Government of Georgia instead of temporarily lifting  the restrictions, offered the religious minorities one-day passes for the persons wishing to attend the religious services.  
To obtain a pass, the persons wishing to attend the religious services should call hot-line (144), present their identity (first name, last name) and provide personal information (ID number). 
The religious minorities rejected the offer of the Government:  The bishop Giuseppe Pasotto stated that provision of the personal information is “the restriction of a personal freedom” and besides the clergy could not know in advance who would attend the service. 
Due to this, on December 25, Christmas Holy Mass at the Catholic temples of Georgia was conducted before 9 p.m., before  beginning of “the curfew”.  
Because of the  restrictions imposed in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Christmas was also celebrated without traditional vigils at the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. Meanwhile, only the clergy participated in the vigils of the Evangelical-Baptist Church. The parish of the Armenian Apostolic Church could not carry out vigils either. 
“In taking the range of measures against the pandemic of the new coronavirus COVID-19, the Government of Georgia constantly shows a non-secular and differentiated approach between the Georgian Orthodox Apostolic Church and other religious organizations. For years, in addition to ineffective state policy regarding the freedom of religion, there is evident ever more open loyalty from the representatives of the authorities towards the dominant religious institutions and towards the ideology of mainstream ethno-religious nationalism ,”-  they state at NGO HRC having reacted with a special appeal to the discriminatory policy of the government regarding the protection of the freedom of religion and faith. 
In the appeal HRC specifically mentioned the fact that the State did not provide the possibility to ethnic Azeris to celebrate the holiday of Novruz Bayram.   
“In the first half of 2021, the Coordination Council decided to mitigate the restrictions introduced due to the coronavirus pandemic, though according to the Council this does not concern cultural and religious holidays. Therefore, on March 18, 2021, the representatives of ethnic Azeri community of Georgia addressed the Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili with a public letter requesting to (temporarily) lift the curfew on March 21 to have a possibility to celebrate a holiday of Novruz Bayram. However, despite the requests from the activists of the Muslim community and their formal appeals, the State did not allow any privileges for them and on the contrary fined them.
Unfortunately, under the new governmental team, we have the similar problems of restricting the religious freedom and that of the discriminatory approach evidencing the acute problems in the country in terms of religious equality and a gross ignorance of the principle of equality,”- is noted in the appeal. 
HRC calls on Georgian authorities: 
  • To protect the fundamental right to enjoy the freedom of religion and faith for all individuals without any discrimination. 
  • To protect the principle of mutual separation of the State and religion guaranteed by the Constitution of Georgia and Constitutional Agreement and irrespective of belonging to any specific confession to give a possibility to all people following relevant regulations to enjoy the freedom of their faith and religion without any obstacles. 
HRC implements the project “Free legal advocacy and human rights monitoring after the coronavirus pandemic” with the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Georgia. The objective of the project is to identify the alleged facts of violations of human rights during the state of emergency announced for the prevention of the spread of the Coronavirus, and in the post-pandemic period, and to raise the awareness concerning these matters in Tbilisi and five regions of Georgia - Shida Kartli, Kakheti, Kvemo Kartli, Imereti and Samegrelo.